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Diversity: ‘I am woman,’ see me lead

Dr. Holley Roberts, interim associate dean of education, and Dr. Chavonda Mills, chair of chemistry, physics and astronomy. They started a new program on campus: Georgia College Women’s Leadership Faculty Fellows.

This is part of an on-going series


Some college and universities send one—but Georgia College has sent as many as three—female faculty to HERS (Higher Education Resource Services), an organization that holds leadership development institutes each year for women in higher education.


In fact, the Provost’s Office is so dedicated to the idea of women leadership, it’s begun a new on-campus program: Georgia College Women’s Leadership Faculty Fellows. Six faculty were recently chosen for that yearlong cohort, which begins in November with a dinner conversation with President Steve Dorman and Provost Costas Spirou.

“Ultimately, we’ve been very successful,” said Spirou, the newly-named provost and vice president for academic affairs. “We’ve been intentional about sending candidates to HERS and, of course, it’s critical to keep carrying it on.”

“Faculty can benefit immensely by participating in this program,” he said, “because they have an opportunity to look at higher education from a broader perspective. The more we cultivate that, the better we are as an institution.”

Georgia College has sent 15 women to HERS since 2014. In that time, at least two professors have participated each summer. This year was the third time three faculty attended.

This sends a strong message that Georgia College believes in supporting the promotion of women. Spirou notes the university’s commitment but said it’s important to be continuously attentive and deliberate in our efforts.

Since 2015, the quantity of women in senior leadership positions nationwide has increased. But, according to a recent “Women in the Workplace” study done by LeanIn.Org, women continue to be underrepresented at every level. About one-in-five senior managers is a woman and only one in 25 are women of color. In higher education, 36 percent of women hold full professorships—according to a 2016 TIAA Institute study—and only 30 percent are presidents, according to the American Council on Education in 2017.

“Many women have sat in places of being underrepresented, undervalued, unexpected, silenced and, in some cases, ignored,” said Dr. Desha Williams, chair of teacher education. Williams was one of three Georgia College women to attend HERS last summer.

Associate Professor and Mass Communication Coordinator Dr. Kristin English joined Williams at the intensive, 2-week residential program in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Dr. Juan Ling, professor of management and College of Business Assessment Coordinator, attended the HERS Institute in Golden, Colorado.

Dr. Juan Ling, professor of management; Dr. Desha Williams, chair of teacher education; and Dr. Kristin English, associate professor of communication. The trio attended the HERS Institute last summer.

They form a growing segment of Georgia College women, who’ve graduated from HERS. Those still at the university include: Dr. Lyndall Muschell in 2014; Dr. Nancy Mizelle in 2015; Dr. Tsu-Ming Chaing, Dr. Chavonda Mills and Dr. Barbara Roquemore in 2016; Mills and Dr. Holley Roberts in 2017; Dr. Sallie Coke and Dr. Nicole DeClouette in 2018. About a dozen women were financed for other leadership programs, as well, including the Women in Leadership Conference at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

At HERS, women determine whether their aspirations warrant further exploration and if their skills set and interests align with leadership. HERS participants do more than simply learn how to lead. They get off campus and glimpse a wider world. They see what’s trending and network with other professionals. They’re exposed to new programs and ideas.

The Provost’s Office pays for one HERS participant each summer. Other women go to HERS, funded by their deans or departments. Faculty join about 70 other participants at the institute, who also aspire to be administrators and leaders or who simply want to learn more. A broad curriculum covers legal affairs, crisis management, diversity, identifying leadership style and different models across higher education. Women learn how to write a resume and sell themselves to perspective employers.

“It’s like feeding from a firehose. You’re taking in all this information, you’re networking, you’re meeting with different women from across the nation, and you’re having to do this within a very limited time. So, at the end of the day you’re really just exhausted and you need time to decompress,” said Mills, the university’s first female chair of chemistry, physics and astronomy.

Dr. Chavonda Mills

Mills went to HERS as a participant, then a year later as a designated facilitator and mentor for STEM participants. While at HERS the first time, Mills got a job offer by phone. She became interim associate dean at the College of Arts and Sciences. HERS was a big piece in Mills’ success in that role and in her jobs teaching chemistry and presiding over the University Senate.

Every HERS participant is asked to do a leadership project at their own institution, upon return. Mills used her skills to navigate the position of interim associate dean. HERS helped Mills understand budgets, personnel management and emotional intelligence—things she hadn’t experienced before.

“I was able to reach out to the network of women, who I bonded with during that time, and ask them questions and seek advice. Did they have trouble in this area? How did they address these issues? We could bounce ideas off each other and see what worked well and what didn’t. So, I was informed going into new initiatives,” she said.

Dr. Holley Roberts

Dr. Holley Roberts is now interim associate dean of education. The year she went to HERS, she’d just been named interim chair of teacher education. Often, leadership jobs like these are open for years, as departments find replacements. People who “step forward in times of transition and continue the leadership,” like Roberts and Mills, need support and direction. Roberts used her newfound HERS knowledge to build a culture of vision and mission for teacher education.

“I went to HERS thinking how do I bring this unit together, when there hadn’t been leadership for a couple of years,” she said. “HERS really informed me and gave me the confidence to come back and implement a plan. It confirmed some things I was already doing and showed me areas that needed tweaking. So, it was perfect timing for me.”

“My only higher-ed experience has been Georgia College,” Roberts said. “So, for me, it’s important I know what’s going on outside of Georgia College, so I can be a more effective leader.”

The newest HERS participants—Williams, English and Ling—all lauded HERS for the growth they experienced.

Promoting women leads to “better problem solving and decision-making, greater creativity and innovation and higher employee satisfaction and retention,” Ling said. Her leadership project is about improving assessment of the College of Business.

English said she wanted to “holistically craft the next step in my career.” She walked away with the confidence to “balance my life with my ambitions.” Attending HERS helped English become aware of current trends in higher education and learn about enrollment management and fundraising. Her leadership project will focus on faculty development.

The most important HERS experience for Williams was networking. She was surprised “how quickly the bonds of sisterhood and support were formed.” HERS taught her “to look for unlikely allies and how to use various styles of leadership, based on the situation.” Williams’ leadership project involves finding ways to recruit, retain and mentor students in education, especially underrepresented populations in all majors.

But what about faculty members, who can’t leave family and work responsibilities to attend HERS in the summer? Now, they can apply for Georgia College’s new fellowship program.

Roberts asked Mills to help her start a leadership program on campus—something Spirou was quick to financially support and encourage. A small offshoot of HERS, Georgia College’s Women Leadership Faculty Fellows provides information on many similar topics.

The campus program began this month with a dinner for six inaugural participants: Dr. Theresa Magpuri-Lavell, Dr. Nicole DeClouette, Dr. Mandy Jarriel, Dr. Juan Ling, Dr. Kasey Karen and Jolene Cole. There’ll be monthly meetings this winter and spring with “phenomenal powerhouse speakers.” Topics include diversity and inclusive excellence, budget and fundraising, crisis management and conflict resolution. The program ends in May with an overnight retreat.

“One of the outcomes we’re looking for is an increase in women leaders,” Mills said. “We’re looking to equip our participants with the tools they need to make informed decisions and be successful agents of change.”

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